Medical and Health Studies

The Microbial Community in Your Gut Can Affect Weight, AutoImmune Disease

“We have completely changed our association with the microbial world.  There is a price to pay for our good intentions.” ~ Scientific American, June 2012

There is a fascinating article in June 2012’s Scientific American titled: “The Ultimate Social Network: Your Inner Ecosystem” that discusses how our intestinal microbial flora is changing with modern life, and the consequences of those changes.  If you think you’re alone in your body, you’re quite mistaken: bacteria cells actually outnumber human cells by a factor of 10:1.  And while the thought of those little buggers might gross you out, many of them actually have beneficial impacts on how our bodies function.  Here are some highlights from the article:

  • Newborns, which are sterile in the womb, pick up beneficial microbes in the birth canal and then from breastfeeding, touching other humans, surfaces, pets, etc.  It doesn’t take long- late infancy, for their microbial environment to develop trillions of cells
  • Many bacteria complete functions that our own cells can not, such as produce specialized substances that are beneficial to the body or provide a regulation system for various functions.  For example, certain bacteria in the gut synthesize enzymes that create B12 – a critical vitamin that is difficult to find in nature
  • Bacteria in the gut also help to digest food for us by breaking down long and complex molecules into digestible pieces
  • H Pylori, which is most commonly villainized as the cause of stomach ulcers, actually has a beneficial regulatory effect on appetite.  In years past as many as 80-90% of us has H Pylori in our stomachs, where post-meals it would decrease ghrelin, which stimulates appetite.  One study found that individuals treated with antibiotics to remove H Pylori gained more weight than those [...]

6 Steps to Boost Your Immunity

Being sick is the pits, but it’s helpful to know that there are real steps you can take to improve your immunity and lessen the odds that you end up with that cold or flu bug flying around the office.  Here are 6 simple, effective ways to ensure your immune system is in good shape.  Keep in mind that most of these are long-term strategies, not 2 or 3 day cures.  By the time you’ve gotten the cold there are a few things you can do to weather it better, but it’s best to avoid it all together.

  • Take notice of your digestion Your gut and your immune system are so intimately linked that some experts state that “80% of your immune system” is actually in your intestines.  Healthy intestinal “flora” (read: good bacteria) not only help you digest your food an assimilate nutrients, but they help create an environment that allows your immune system to protect you from potentially dangerous viruses and bacteria.  If your digestion isn’t good take steps to fix it (read below).
  • Eat fermented foods, or take probiotics No, I’m not talking about beer.  Traditional fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and miso contain beneficial bacteria called probiotics that are excellent for your digestion.  The fermented vegetables, such as cabbage, have the additional benefit of excellent levels of vitamin C and some other nutrients which are also helpful for preventing and fighting bugs.  Amaze yourself by making your own sauerkraut. It has to be the real deal: frequently the stuff they sell in the store is actually pickled, not fermented, so you’ll have to ask or check labels.  If that’s too much work for you [...]

Avoiding Chemicals from Cookware

I’ve gotten a few questions lately about healthy cookware, which is a great question to ask.  Non-stick cookware was introduced as a healthy alternative to regular, the justification being that less oil would need to be used to cook meats and vegetables.  However, we now know it’s not that simple, as the chemicals used to make a pan non-stick have health consequences of their own.

Let’s start with Teflon, the most common non-stick coating.  It has an interesting history, for sure!  Technically Teflon is a chemical called polytetraflouroethylene, or PTFE, and it was invented all the way back in 1938.  It had some industrial uses before it started to appear in commercial cookware in the early 50s.  Dupont, the company that patented the technology, “avoided the market for consumer cookware due to potential problems associated with release of toxic gases if stovetop pans were overheated in inadequately ventilated spaces” (Wikipedia).  PTFE is still used today in non-stick cookware, and the concerns about high-heat cooking are still valid.  Basically, heat the pan much hotter than 300 degrees and toxic fumes can be release – this is regardless of whether the pan is scratched, although scratches will make the integrity of the product even worse.

PTFE is not the only non-stick coating; PFOA is also widely used.  Unfortunately PFOA is no better than PTFE health-wise, possibly it’s worse.  This is a good article about the dangers of PFOA, which include cancer,  low birth weight, birth defects, suppressed immune system and possibly raised cholesterol levels.  Again, the chemical is transmitted through high-heat cooking that causes toxic fumes to rise off of the cooking surface.  The fumes can [...]

US Congress guilty of child abuse

I thought about that title for a while before publishing this post, believe me.  But I just can’t get around how true it is…and I’ll get to my logic in a minute.  First the background: a couple weeks ago Congress changed parts of a bill that contained nutritional requirements for the National School Lunch Program.  In an effort to slow down the devastating increase in childhood obesity and diabetes, the law had several proposed changes, essentially amounting to more vegetables, less salt, more whole grains, and fewer french fries.  Congress changed it back: eliminating or delaying these updates.  Why?  Because the frozen foods, potato and salt lobbies wanted them to ($wonder why$). 

Most public schools participate in the National School Lunch program: 

“The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 101,000 public and non‐profit private schools and residential child care         institutions. It provided nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day in 2010.”   (Italics are mine.)

 This is a tremendous amount of food: 31 million children x 270 school days per year = 7,440,000,000 meals (that’s nearly 7 and a half billion).  To receive reimbursement a school must follow nutritional guidelines established by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).  Those regulations currently mandate a certain number of vegetables and fruits and provide general quidelines around numbers and percentages of calories (from fat, carbs, protein, sugar, etc).  Even children who don’t qualify for free or reduced price meals participate in the program, as their meals are still reimbursed, just at a lower rate.

Those all seem like pretty reasonable guidelines.  So why does school lunch frequently look like a piece of pizza, side of [...]

Homemade Chicken Stock

Upgrate your dinner and give your immune system a boost by preparing homemade chicken stock.  Why bother?

  1. It’s cheaper than buying chicken and stock separately
  2. It tastes way better
  3. Really does provide tons of minerals and boost your immune system
  4. Helps you avoid excess salt and junk like msg in canned stocks
  5. It’s really not that hard: your total time investment will probably be 20 minutes: the time it takes to fill a pot with water, turn on the stove, and then strain and pour liquid into jars.

Read detailed instructions and more on the health benefits here.

Eat away your Bad Mood

Wow are we Americans in a bad mood!  The NIH (National Institute of Health) estimates that 21 million Americans suffer from mood disorders and about 15 million suffer from depression, and I would bet that the numbers are even higher.  But those numbers represent 7 and 5% of the US population, respectively.  The following is from The Mood Cure, by Julia Ross:

“We’re in a bad-mood epidemic, a hundred times more likely to have significant mood problems than people a hundred years ago.  And these problems are on the rise.  Adult rates of depression and anxiety have tripled since 1990, and over 80 percent of those who consult medical doctors today complain of excessive stress.  Even our children are in trouble, with at least one in ten suffering from significant mood disorders.”

Tragic, but not hopeless.  Your mood has everything to do with your brain chemistry – specifically your levels of “good mood” neurotransmitters like serotonin and tryptophan.   Your brain chemistry is directly affected by what you eat.  The foods that we eat serve as building blocks for various proteins and other chemicals in our bodies, including for those same brain chemicals.  So while you can’t necessarily decide “I’m going to be in a good mood today”, you can decide to eat foods that will enable your brain to have the right chemical balance to support a good mood.  Most anti-depressant medications just increase the accessibility of serotonin in the brain.  You can do this naturally, without the nasty side-effects of medication (i.e. weight gain…there’s nothing like an extra 10 lbs to improve your mood!)

So what to eat?  Different mood disorders may require slightly different choices, and I highly recommend anyone with mood troubles to [...]

Cancer – Control your Risk

I didn’t know a single person with cancer until I was in high school, and 12 years later my 6th childhood/college friend was recently diagnosed.  Carcinoma, leukemia, testicular, brain, melanoma, and Hodgkin’s.   This is too many people – all in my small network and all in their mid 20s to early 30s when diagnosed – for me to comprehend!   All young, and all male.  It’s hard not to be scared by it all.

Cancer seems scarier than other health issues, I think, because we don’t feel like we have any control over it.   I’ve done a lot of reading over the past year and a half or so to try to understand the link between diet and cancer, and what I now know is encouraging.  Here is a nutshell of what I know for sure:

  1. Cancer will exist in all of us at some point in time.  Cancer is really just a cell with mutated DNA that has lost its ability to stop replicating.  This isn’t uncommon at all.
  2. Our cells are quite intelligent – there are multiple processes in place to repair cell DNA, stop the replication, and either kill the cell or turn it into a normal one.
  3. Chemicals found in plants – especially fruits and vegetables – help cells do this. 
  4. We can create environments in our bodies that either encourages or discourages the proliferation of cancer.  Two main factors: our level of inflammation and our alkalinity are especially important.  Diet heavily impacts both.

If you’d like to learn more about how to eat in a way that encourages healthy cells and discourages cancer growth, I’d recommend two things: 1) watch Forks over Knives, and 2) read Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients, by Russell Blaylock.  The book is [...]

To tuna or not to tuna

I know that title is ridiculous, oh well.  I just spent 20 minutes in the tuna aisle at Whole Foods trying to figure out which canned tuna to use for a recipe I’m trying out for next week’s No Plan Meal Plan.  (It’s a tasty tuna and white bean salad, btw, and takes about 5 minutes to make).  Anyways, I almost never buy tuna, so my tuna-selecting skills were a little rusty.  When I got there it occurred to me that I’m still nursing, so I should probably be as careful as possible, not to mention that many NPMP subscribers have small kids.  I ended up googling for help on my Droid, which took me to this very helpful site

It can get a little confusing, with the different types of tuna and the various catch methods, regions, and labeling.  But basically, as far as mercury is concerned Light Tuna is going to be better than Chunk White Tuna, almost always.  That’s because Light is usually Skipjack tuna, which is a much smaller species and thus accumulates fewer toxins (about 1/3 the levels as albacore).  And it’s cheaper.  Regarding environmental and sustainability concerns it’s best to choose tuna that’s labeled as caught by troll/poll, which are methods that have low levels of by-catch (i.e. they’re less likely to snare Flipper).  Now, some Light tuna is actually yellowfin, which is just as bad as Albacore, so I would recommend buying a brand that specifically says Skipjack and troll/poll caught.  There you have it, now you can try out that tasty salad recipe, which will be making its debut next week – sign up by weds night to get your recipes, shopping list, and time-saving [...]

Bye bye Orbit gum..

Well, this is a little sad (but probably for the best).  No more Orbit gum.  Thanks to this article, which does a pretty good job at describing a handful of dangerous food additives.  Some are familiar (saccharin i.e. Sweet n Low, Olestra of anal leakage fame, and trans fats), and others are a little more mysterious.  BHT and BHA, the substances in Orbit gum, are “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” according to the Department of Health and Human Services.  (Why does the FDA still allow it?  I don’t know but the FDA allows a LOT of scary things in our food).  Another surprising one for me was  Carrageenan, which is actually made from seaweed and you’ll see in many “natural” products.  It’s associated with cancer, colon issues and ulcers.  Yikes.  Check out the article for more common additives, and the products they’re in.  And as usual, if you can’t pronounce it, probably best not to eat it 🙂

Higher calcium intake not associated with reduction in Osteoporosis

A new study of over 61,000 women in Sweden shows that high calcium intake did not lower the risk of developing osteoporosis or of having hip or other fractures.  Only women who consumed less than 700mg of calcium experienced higher rate of these problems.  In fact, the highest consumers of calcium actually had a higher rate of hip fracture:

“Dietary calcium intakes below approximately 700 mg per day in women were associated with an increased risk of hip fracture, any fracture, and of osteoporosis,” the study authors conclude. “The highest reported calcium intake did not further reduce the risk of fractures of any type, or of osteoporosis, but was associated with a higher rate of hip fracture.”

While it’s not a good idea to have low daily intake of calcium, the US recommendation is to have as much as 1,200mg daily (while quite beneficial to the dairy industry)  appears to be rather high. 

For the healthiest sources of calcium, make yourself a serving of one of the following vegetables (info was taken from this cool website).

Greens in the cabbage family, and mg of calcium:
Collard greens, cooked, 1 cup – 357 mg
Turnip greens, cooked, 1 cup – 249 mg
Kale, cooked, 1 cup – 179 mg
Bok choy, cooked, 1 cup – 158 mg
Mustard greens, cooked, 1 cup – 152 mg
Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup – 94 mg